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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rain At Last

As you may have noted, we've been having some weather over here on the left coast. Yes, we had some snow out here in Portland. That may not surprise some readers, considering that we're located on about the same parallel as St. John, New Brunswick, but snowfall is about as common here as it is in Atlanta. Our climate actually has a lot in common with London, except it rains more here, an admirable 37 inches per year compared with London's measly 29 inches.

Sometimes, children must borrow snow from the neighbors
We do get the odd freak storm every other year or so, generally between half an inch or two, and up to six once a decade. Communal fear (adult) and joy (kids) reign in equal parts. From the first hint that a cold front may be headed our way, the grocerers are packed with shoppers laying in provisions. My husband, who regular readers will recall is a Brazilian, even bought a kerosene stove, a couple lanterns and a propane space heater one year. Kids listen for school cancellations and gather cookie sheets to sled on.

The most amusing aspect of an impending storm, however, is the television coverage. There is NO OTHER NEWS than the possibility of snow. Every station sends their lowest seniority reporters out to watch the roads and submit reports every 10-15 minutes. These brave souls are posted on highway overpasses, dressed in ski hats, mukluks and their most recent Christmas sweater, and submit such stories as this:

Field Reporter: Hi, this is Scoop Porter out here in the Columbia Gorge where, as you can see, it has not begun to snow yet.
Anchor:  Any reports from the road, Scoop?
Field Reporter:  Well, there aren't many out there tonight. People are playing it safe. We did talk to a truck driver headed toward Pendleton, though. He told us that was indeed carrying traction devices. These traction devices, chains he called them, are specially designed to prevent a vehicle from sliding or getting stuck in snow.
 Anchor:  That's good reporting Scoop. However, we all know there's nothing anyone can do in the event black ice forms on the road surface.
 Field Reporter: Right you are. Black ice is treacherous.
 Anchor: And why do they call it black ice, Scoop? Is it actually black?
 Field Reporter: Heh, heh. No, no. It's called black ice because you can't see it. Ice is transparent, as you probably know, and against the pavement the ice is invisible.
Someone has scraped the black ice to check for visibility
 Anchor: So you say this ice is invisible. So suppose little Tommy or Joey scraped some of it up. Would they be able to see it?
 Field Reporter: Well, I don't know, but I sure wouldn't encourage kids to be outside tonight scraping up black ice or anything else.
 Anchor: Cold out there?
 Field Reporter: My grandpa'd say it was cold as a -- just a minute! I thought I saw a flake of snow. Yes. Yes, that was actually a flake of snow out here. The first winter storm of 2012 has arrived.
 Anchor: (cutting back to the newsroom, now with a backdrop reading Winter's Wrath) There you have it. It is officially snowing out in the Columbia Gorge. The list of school closures will be available after this quick break.
This dialog is only slightly exaggerated, as other Portlanders will affirm. And the reporters are almost correct in calling snowy weather treacherous -- it's actually Pacific Northwest drivers who are dangerous. I recall watching with disbelief  as a driver spun out of control coming down Queen Anne Ave. in Seattle. He was so terrified, he jumped out of his car and almost ran himself over. Of course our lack of expertise is exacerbated by the fact that it doesn't snow often enough for the county to purchase snow removal equipment. It's just as dangerous to be on the sidewalk as it is on the road. And it upsets the livestock, as you can see here.

So, it's raining here again, and I am grateful. The primroses are already peeping out. The grass green stays year round. And rain -- you don't have to shovel it.

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